The Out-of-Their-Depths Gang
“Nobody’s perfect” is the final line of dialogue in what’s regarded one of the most perfect period movie comedies ever made, the Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond Some Like It Hot (1959). Nobody’s Perfect is also the title of the introductory song – music by David Shire, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman – of a shaggier, less respected big-screen period romp called Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976), which didn’t get much of a break from reviewers and audiences when it opened in close proximity to other comedies by fellows named Mel Brooks (Silent Movie) and Neil Simon (Murder by Death). But like other elaborate, big-budget, buddy-centric endeavors that didn’t get much critical love in their time, like The Great Race (1965), The Fortune (1975, a Twilight Time title) and Ishtar (1987), it can be revisited now with fonder attitudes because of the affectionately executed efforts of a starry cast, flavorful recreation of an earlier era and a goofball go-for-broke attitude that becomes oddly endearing as its antics unfold. Executive producer Tony Bill won an Oscar® as producer of The Sting (1973) three years earlier, so the film was likely viewed – and dismissed – as a “dumb-and-dumber” variation on the smart-and-smarter, “cons-conning-each other” clockwork precision of that acclaimed caper.
But seeing as how Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were no longer in their “on the road” prime by 1976, you get James Caan as Harry Dighby and Elliott Gould as Walter Hill, two doofuses who aren’t great shakes (hence the above-named ditty performed with ramshackle gusto) as vaudeville headliners (indeed, they’re way down on the bill) or even petty-ante thieves who try to fleece unsuspecting audiences via a carny-styled mind-reading act (they go to jail as a result). Their interlude behind bars – where master criminal Adam Worth, played with chilly British elegance by Michael Caine, reigns supreme thanks to its crooked administration – opens their eyes to another possibility: big-time bank robbery as an entrée to a Manhattan high society world of gentlemen criminals with the town at their feet. While incarcerated, two bits of good fortune fall into their laps: discovering Worth’s blueprints to an ambitious bank job, and the gullible naiveté of idealistic newspaper editor Lissa Chestnut (Diane Keaton), who happens onto the premises hoping to do an exposé of corrupt prison conditions. Presto change-o, they engineer (more an inadvertent improvisation) an unlikely prison escape and the newly formed Dighby-Hill-Chestnut gang tries to beat the rascally Worth to the scene of the intended crime. As nothing happens perfectly where these guys are concerned, there will be not blood but buffoonery in the extreme, courtesy of the jaunty screenplay by John Byrum (the TT title Inserts) and Robert Kaufman (who penned the earlier Gould comedies Getting Straight and I Love My...Wife).
It all takes place against a beautifully rendered recreation of the turn-of-the-20th-century era by production designer Harry Horner (an Oscar® winner for The Heiress and The Hustler), art director Richard Berger (whose other 1976 project was Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon) and set decorator Ruby Levitt (an Oscar® nominee for Chinatown), and lovingly lensed in widescreen Panavision by ace cinematographer László Kovács (Paper Moon, At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon). Noted “actors director” Mark Rydell (The Reivers, The Cowboys) had already showcased a great performance from Caan in his earlier Cinderella Liberty (1973) and would do so again in his later For the Boys (1991). The four stars are well and vigorously supported by a gallery of great faces and talents: Charles Durning, Lesley Ann Warren, Val Avery, Jack Gilford, Dennis Dugan, Carol Kane, Kathryn Grody, David Proval, Michael Conrad, Burt Young and Bert Remsen, with on-screen glimpses of Shire tinkling the ivories and Carmine Coppola wielding the conductor’s baton. An extravagant and colorful exercise in nobody being perfect, Harry and Walter Go to New York in swank TT hi-def Blu-ray style, with Shire’s boisterous score on an Isolated Music Track and the Cinema Retro team of movie-loving nabobs Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo gathered for an engaging Audio Commentary. Join the gang when they break out in 1080p splendor on February 20. Preorders open February 7.